NEW YORK, March 17 (Reuters) - Ted Cruz, Donald Trump's closest Republican rival in the U.S. presidential race, named his national security advisers on Thursday, including former staffers of President George W. Bush and members of a think tank that has been called an anti-Muslim "hate group."
Announcing the team in a statement, Cruz said he would reverse what he described as the weakening of the United States in a dangerous world, singling out militant Islamist groups in the Middle East and North Africa as his focus.
RELATED: Ted Cruz through years
Ted Cruz through the years, with family
Cruz names national security team for US presidential campaign
Texas Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz, left, and Don. R. Willett, right, leave the federal courthouse after a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2003, in Austin, Texas. Lawyers and federal judges met earlier to plan for the upcoming redistricting trial. Willett is deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Ted Cruz, from the Texas Attorney General's Office, speaks to members of the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday, April 18, 2006, in Austin, Texas. Texas lawmakers embark on a 30-day special session to repair the state's method of paying for public education. Cruz explained the court rulings on school finance to the committee. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 21: Ted Cruz (R) Texas
(Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call)
Texas US Senate Republican primary candidate Ted Cruz, left, talks with his father Rafael Cruz as he works at the campaign's phone bank, on election day, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Texas Republican Ted Cruz speaks to reporters Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in Houston. Cruz placed second behind Lt. Gov. David Dewurst in a field of nine candidates in the Republican primary race for a U.S. Senate seat. Cruz and Dewhurst will square off in a second round of voting July 31. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
U.S. Senate Candidate Ted Cruz, right, has a discussion with David Dewhurst supporter Sherri Heinzman before the Texas Federation of Republican Woman luncheon during the Texas Republican Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, June 8, 2012. Cruz is competing with Dewhurst for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. They face a runoff July 31 after no one in a crowded GOP field won a majority of the votes cast in last month's primary. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz arrives for a luncheon near the state Republican convention, Friday, June 8, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
U.S. Senate candidate candidate Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, wave to delegates after he spoke on the final day of the state Republican convention at the FWCC on Saturday, June 9, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2012 file photo, Sen.-elect Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, smiles as he listens to campaign chief consultant Jason Johnson go over election results as they come in, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Cruz was scheduled to speak on the scope of treaty power in the U.S. Constitution. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2014 file photo, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Never mind dropping oil prices. U.S. producers are pushing harder than ever for the right to sell U.S. crude oil overseas. It might seem counterintuitive: Oil prices are as low as they have been at any point since 2009 and the height of the Great Recession. Depending on the projection, prices could drop further still with slowing economies across the world. Oil producers are playing a longer game, betting that long-term demand remains strong and new markets offer lucrative rewards for U.S. producers. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke, File)
LYNCHBURG, VA - MARCH 23: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stands on stage his his daughter, Catherine Cruz, 4, left, his wife, Heidi Cruz, and his older sister, Caroline Cruz, 6, right, after he made a speech announcing his candidacy for a presidential bid at Liberty University on Monday March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, VA.(Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks as he campaigns Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
"After two terms of a failed Obama-Clinton foreign policy, our allies are confused and frightened, and our enemies are looking for opportunities," his statement read, referring to President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Among the most recognizable names on Cruz's list of 23 advisers was Elliott Abrams, who served in both President Ronald Reagan's and Bush's administrations and is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations for Middle Eastern studies.
The list, first reported by Bloomberg View, also included Frank Gaffney, a former official in President Ronald Reagan's administration, and at least two other members of a think tank Gaffney founded, the Center for Security Policy.
The center produces research that drifts far from the academic mainstream, arguing that hundreds of thousands of American Muslims support Islamist violence in the United States and that there is a conspiracy to erode the U.S. legal system by elevating sharia, the Islamic legal code, in the country.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, that monitors white nationalism in the United States, has labeled the Center for Security Policy a "hate group" and Gaffney a "noted Islamophobe."
Trump, a 69-year-old billionaire businessman from New York, has surged to the lead of the once-crowded Republican field, drawing support from predominantly white voters by promising to dramatically strengthen laws and regulations on immigration and trade.
A series of opinion polls have found about two-thirds of Republican voters like Trump's proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States for fear they might be members of violent Islamist groups, and he cited research by Gaffney's group in announcing the plan last year.
RELATED: 9 facts you should know about Ted Cruz
9 Facts you should know about Ted Cruz
Cruz names national security team for US presidential campaign
1) His legal name is Rafael Edward Cruz.
(Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
2) His wife Heidi has worked at investment banking firm Goldman Sachs. The company told CNN Monday she will go on unpaid leave for the duration of his campaign. They met while they worked on George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
3) He won his Senate seat in 2010 without ever having been elected to public office before. Prior to that he had been appointed to the office of the Solicitor General in Texas.
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
4) He had a minor brush with the law in 1987 when he received a ticket for underage possession of alcohol as a senior in high school.
(Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
5) He has two Ivy League degrees: an undergraduate degree from Princeton, and a law degree from Harvard.
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
6) He has kept a painting of himself in his office -- a picture of him as a 32-year-old arguing a case before the Supreme Court.
(AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
7) He played a significant role in the government shutdown of 2013, leading a chorus of Republicans who refused to vote for any plan that kept the federal government running that did not also defund Obamacare. Cruz spend nearly 24 straight hours defending his position, including at one point reading the Dr. Seuss classic "Green Eggs and Ham."
(AP Photo/Senate TV)
8) His father (left) fled Cuba for the United States, worked in the oil industry and eventually became a pastor. He has made headlines for somewhat inflammatory statements, including telling an audience that President Obama should be sent "back to Kenya."
(Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
9) He doesn't believe in climate change, an issue many Democrats have lampooned him for, in part because he leads the Senate's Space, Science, and Competitiveness Committee which oversees NASA. During a recent appearance on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" Cruz said "Debates on this should follow science and should follow data. Many of the alarmists on global warming, they’ve got a problem because the science doesn’t back them up."
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
But Trump's views are less appealing to many in the broader general American electorate, who will vote for the next president in November. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday found that half of all women in the country have a "very unfavorable" view of him.
Cruz, a 45-year-old U.S. senator from Texas, is seeking to keep Trump from winning an outright majority of delegates as states continue to vote for party nominees in the coming months, and to wrest the nomination from him at the party's national convention in Cleveland in July.
Trump warned on Wednesday that there might be riots if he remains the most popular candidate going into the convention but does not emerge as the nominee. His rallies have been marked by angry skirmishes between supporters, protesters and security staff, sometimes resulting in punches and bloodied heads.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the most powerful U.S. Republican, chastised Trump on Thursday for his riot comments, telling reporters "to even address or hint to violence" is unacceptable.
Arizona and Utah will be the next states to vote, on Tuesday.
Cruz has said "everyone understands" Trump's proposed Muslim ban, but that he did not support it himself, saying there are millions of Muslims who are not murderous. Instead, he supports stopping refugees from some predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the United States.
Democratic politicians, many of whom argue that climate change is a greater threat to global stability and American security, and others have condemned Republican candidates' attacks on Islam, saying it leads to further division and discrimination.
Even many conservative groups have said Gaffney is an extremist, and some of the other advisers Cruz is naming have been critical of anti-Islamic rhetoric. They include Abrams and Mary Habeck, another former adviser to Bush; both have said Islam should not be demonized.
Trump has said his main adviser is himself, and has largely rebuffed journalists' inquiries about whether he will name a formal team of foreign policy and national security advisers.